House ethics watchdogs said Thursday they are reviewing a matter involving Rep. Luis Gutierrez, one of the Congress’s most recognizable and energetic champions of immigration reform, but declined to provide any details.
Published reports dating from last summer have questioned payments by Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, of more than $500,000 over 10 years to a Chicago lobbyist, who used to be his chief of staff, to do various jobs for his congressional office.
USA Today reported that Doug Scofield stepped down as Gutierrez’s chief of staff in 2002, but was paid several thousand dollars a month as a contractor to train staff, review and draft news releases, help publicize Gutierrez’s activities, and handle other tasks. Soon after the paper raised the issue, Gutierrez’s office discontinued the contract with Scofield.
The announcement from House Ethics Committee Chairman Mike Conaway and ranking Democrat Linda Sanchez did not mention the matter specifically. The case was referred to the committee in December by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, after it conducted its own inquiry.
Under House rules, the committee now has 45 days — until May 5 — to decide whether it will expand its review by empaneling a special investigative subcommittee. Such a panel would formally consider whether Gutierrez broke House rules and, if so, possibly recommend punishment.
“The OCE referral to the House Committee on Ethics relates to whether a long-standing contract was allowable under House rules,” said Douglas Rivlin, a spokesman for the 11-term congressman from West Chicago. “The contract for services was reviewed and approved by the House of Representatives and submitted for renewal each Congress for 10 years. It was consistently and properly reported. Rep. Gutiérrez cancelled the contract last year.”
Rivlin added in his statement: “Rep. Gutiérrez cooperated fully with the OCE during its review and will continue to do so with the committee. As the committee has noted, an OCE referral does not indicate that any violation has occurred or reflect a judgment on behalf of the committee.”
The OCE would not comment on the case Thursday, and a report provided with its Dec. 23 referral of the Gutierrez case to the Ethics Committee has not been made public.
On separate matters, the committee is expected to announce by Monday whether it will proceed to that next investigative step on allegations involving Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, and in an unrelated matter involving freshman Rep. Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma Republican.
Gutierrez has in recent years built a national profile as one of Congress’s most passionate advocates on immigration issues, and is regarded one of his party’s leading strategists on trying to come up with a bipartisan approach to immigration reform.
He has been part of an informal bipartisan group of House members trying to draft an immigration bill that would increase border security and allow the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship. He also is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force, and previously served as chairman of the Democratic Caucus Immigration Task Force.
This session, Gutierrez gave up his No. 3 position in terms of Democratic seniority on the Financial Services Committee in order to serve on the House Judiciary Committee, which is the committee of jurisdiction for immigration.